Just days after the New York Attorney General ordered the Donald J. Trump Foundation to stop soliciting donations, the Republican nominee is under fire again, this time for claims that he used charity funds to launch his presidential campaign. An investigation by RealClearPolitics into the charity’s tax filings reveals that between 2011 and 2014, the Trump Foundation donated least $286,000 to “influential conservative or policy groups” in a manner that often “corresponded to prime speaking slots or endorsements that aided Trump” as he pushed his image as a viable nominee.
The RCP story quotes Oran Smith, the president of a South Carolina-based conservative think tank, who had been critical of Trump during the latter’s flirtation with a run in 2012. After suggesting Trump would get “thumped” in the early-voting state, Smith was invited to Trump’s office in New York for a meeting that yielded a $10,000 donation to Smith’s organization, with the money coming via the Trump Foundation. Smith claimed Trump was “never heavy-handed about any quid pro quo,” but he acknowledges that his prominence in a crucial primary state could have influenced the real estate mogul’s decision.
More damningly, RCP quotes a source close to Trump who says: “He was politically active starting in 2011,” when he “started to make strategic donations.” While some of the donations in question were made by Trump himself, the source says The Donald used his Foundation’s funds when possible. Seeing as Trump stopped donating to the charity in 2008, this means he was using money given by outside donors to lay groundwork for a future run.
Even prior to the Washington Post stories and the N.Y. AG’s actions, the Trump Foundation had been implicated in scandal. The charity made a $25,000 contribution to the re-election effort for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. At the time, Bondi’s office was conducting an investigation into the allegations against Trump’s for-profit “university,” which attendees and former employees have argued is a scam. Shortly after the donation, Bondi’s office dropped its investigation. At the beginning of Trump’s campaign, he frequently boasted of having purchased political influence, an angle he has since abandoned.